A unit of gambling giant Flutter Entertainment, FanDuel will become the MLS club’s exclusive sports betting partner. Under the deal, which includes the standard marketing opportunities, the two sides will work towards launching a sportsbook inside Audi Field sometime in 2021.
Though terms of the agreement weren’t announced, D.C. United will receive an annual fee, plus a percentage of every dollar wagered at the location, according to two people familiar with the agreement.
“It’s a new revenue stream for the team, and also a new revenue stream for the District of Columbia,” said Sam Porter, the team’s chief strategy officer. “But more than that, it’s a new entertainment opportunity both for our fans, and people who aren’t necessarily soccer fans but want to come from Maryland, Virginia or D.C. to place wagers.”
To make this deal happen, D.C. United had to first unwind its partnership with Caesars Entertainment, announced earlier this year, which included the Caesars logo on the team’s jerseys. Porter said FanDuel, which won’t appear on the D.C. United jerseys, was a better cultural fit for the club.
As gambling operators rush for market share in the nearly 20 states that have adopted legal sports betting, teams have become a popular way to reach a targeted group of fans. Other team deals across major U.S. sports include in-arena lounges, content studios and even career development opportunities.
Every state’s laws are unique, however, and this deal reflects the specifics of D.C.’s approach. The District is one of the few jurisdictions that allows for sportsbooks at stadiums and arenas. Not only that, city-wide mobile betting rights were given exclusively to the lottery, so partnering with one of the four local sports venues might be the only way in for operators like FanDuel or DraftKings.
Given the geography of the city—the Wizards and Capitals play downtown, while Audi Field sits next to Nationals Park in Southwest Washington—there’s likely a big advantage for D.C. United getting its sportsbook up and running before the Nationals.
“There’s going to be intense competition between Nationals Park and Audi Field, given their proximity,” said David VanEgmond, founder and CEO of Bettor Capital and a former FanDuel executive, who advised the team on the deal. “For D.C. United to have the experience and expertise of FanDuel, which is the nation’s largest sportsbook, that’s something differentiated when they looked at the marketplace.”
These brick-and-mortar locations are especially attractive in D.C. because the lottery’s rollout of mobile betting has been marred by problems. Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards and Capitals, recently opened a William Hill-operated sportsbook in its downtown arena and the handle at that retail-only location exceeds the handle at the online operator.
This is FanDuel’s first partnership with an MLS club. The company currently operates retail sportsbooks in nine states, including the location adjacent to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
“We’re partnering with D.C. United to elevate the fan experience at Audi Field and bring the DMV area an in-person sports gaming experience other parts of the U.S. have come to know and love from FanDuel,” CEO Mattt King said in a statement.
The Audi Field sportsbook, which still needs licensing and regulatory approval, will have sightlines to the field itself and will be open to the outside, meaning people can enter from the street and place wagers at times when D.C. United isn’t playing. The stadium, which opened in 2018, averaged 17,744 fans per game last year.
D.C. United is co-chaired by Jason Levien, former managing partner of the Memphis Grizzlies, and Stephen Kaplan, co-founder of Oaktree Capital. The pair also own Welsh soccer club Swansea City.
FanDuel has been one of the early winners in U.S. sports gambling. It had 33% of the online market in the first half of 2020, according to data from Eilers & Krajcik, more than any other brand.